I am something of an anomaly in the Episcopal Church: a low-church liturgy wonk. In fact, it is from my deep appreciation for the liturgy as it has been inherited and reformatted into the Book of Common Prayer (1979), that I draw my lower-than-most understanding of the Sacraments and sacramental acts. It is from my interpretation of Thomas Cranmer’s evangelical zeal, that I find the space to experiment liturgically in the hopes of meeting the needs of a rapidly changing culture. As usual, however, I’ve digressed. As a liturgy wonk, I fell like I have a pretty good handle on most of the slang that get used by my brothers and sisters who are more fond of liturgical haberdashery than I, but yesterday, my high-church trained, but growing lower everyday Rector dropped a word that if I had ever heard before, I’d not paid much attention to: Passiontide, which makes up the last two weeks of Lent.
Passiontide rose to glory in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, which was the first Book to have the carry the title, beginning on Lent 5, even though the Passion Gospel was not read until Palm Sunday. (To be fair, the appointed lesson, John 8:46-59 does tend to highlightthe passion of Jesus, which ultimately led to his Passion.) By the time of the 1979 revision, the term had fallen out of favor, even with the Roman Catholics, and it no longer appears in our text, but for preachers, the reality is that this penultimate week of Lent is our Passion Week. By the time Monday in Holy Week rolls around, there won’t be much time to meditate on the suffering of our Lord, and come the middle of the week, if you’re anything like me, and I know most of you aren’t, you’ll have to skip ahead and write an Easter sermon full of Alleluias before Jesus has even washed his disciples feet.
As we prepare to read and preach on the Passion of our Lord according to Luke, it might be helpful to live into Passiontide. Take some time to meditate on the narrative. Maybe walk the stations. Spend this week immersed in the Passion of Jesus, as you prepare to share the Good News of God’s self-giving love for all flesh. As you do so, if you are in the Episcopal Church, you’ll note that choice must be made. Will you read the Passion beginning with the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:14-23:56) or will you choose the shorter version, which skips both the Garden and Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:1-49)? This low-church liturgy wonk will be doing neither, choosing to use the rubric on page 888 and lengthening the shorter option to include both the Garden scene and Jesus’ burial (Luke 22:39-23:56). Whatever option you choose, I pray that as you get a head start on walking the way of the cross this Passiontide, it might be for you the very way of life and peace through Jesus Christ our Lord.